Israel issues ultimatum, halts West Bank pullback PLO incitement, calls for statehood must end, Netanyahu says

December 03, 1998|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Acting in the wake of the nationally televised bludgeoning of an Israeli soldier by enraged Palestinians, Israel announced a halt in the return of land to the Palestinians until they stop the campaign of incitement that has engulfed the peace process.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ultimatum went further: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat must forgo his recently revived intention to declare an independent state in May and accede to the parameters of a prisoner release negotiated at Wye, Md., in October.

Israel's demands come 10 days before President Clinton is to travel here to inaugurate the second stage of the Wye accord. The Clinton administration condemned yesterday's attack on the Israeli soldier as "the kind of violence that has no place in the peace process." But State Department spokesman James P. Rubin insisted that the Wye accord should be "implemented as signed."

He added: "We do not think it is appropriate to add new conditions."

Israeli took its action yesterday against the backdrop of a series of incidents in the past week that have disrupted implementation of the land-for-security peace agreement signed Oct. 23 in Washington.

The incidents include violent clashes between Israeli police and Arab demonstrators demanding the release of Palestinian political prisoners from Israeli jails.

Shortly before dawn yesterday, a Palestinian street cleaner was murdered in a Jerusalem neighborhood. The assailant is believed to be a Jewish extremist suspected in six other stabbings of Arabs over the past year, Israeli police said.

Hundreds attended the burial of 41-year-old Osama Musa abu Aisha Natche yesterday afternoon. As the funeral procession made its way down the main street of Arab East Jerusalem, several mourners stepped out of the crowd and pelted Israeli riot police with stones. The police fired back with rubber-coated bullets.

Inflammatory broadcast

But it was last night's broadcast of the beating of the Israeli soldier that underscored the deep-seated hatreds that stand in the way of peace.

The stoning of the Israeli car occurred on the West Bank, just outside the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

It followed a demonstration by Bir Zeit University students over the release of Palestinian prisoners. The students were bused to Ramallah for the demonstration.

On the outskirts of the city, Palestinian demonstrators began stoning cars with Israeli tags as they entered a traffic circle near the Jewish settlement of Beit El. A car pulled to the side of the road and about two dozen demonstrators stormed the vehicle. They smashed the windows as television cameras taped.

The driver, a Jewish civilian, leaped from the car, but a passenger, the Israeli soldier, was trapped. The stone-throwers opened the door and began pummeling the stunned soldier, who fell to the ground. Some Palestinians called out for their comrades to stop, according to television reports.

The soldier tried to ward off the blows, but a Palestinian grabbed a rock and hit him repeatedly. The bleeding soldier eventually got to his feet and hobbled to a nearby Israeli military camp.

The stone-throwers then set fire to the car. The soldier's M-16 assault rifle was stolen, but was later returned to the Israeli army by Palestinian police who arrived after the incident and began an investigation.

Israeli ultimatum

Netanyahu, after consulting with his Cabinet, issued the government's ultimatum on continued progress in the peace process last night. A key demand involved the continued dispute over the release of Palestinian prisoners as agreed in the Wye accord. Israel refused to release prisoners who had "blood on their hands" or were members of Hamas, the Islamic militant group responsible for suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks.

"Israel will implement the next stage of the withdrawal only if the Palestinian Authority will clarify that it is committed to the agreement reached at Wye, whereby prisoners with blood on their hands nor Hamas people will be released," the Israeli government said in a statement released by Netanyahu's spokesman, Aviv Bushinsky.

Israel also demanded that the Palestinian Authority "state explicitly that it forgoes its intention to unilaterally declare Palestinian statehood," stop the incitement and violence, and punish the rioters.

David Bar-Illan, a chief aide to the prime minister, said the violence can be attributed to Palestinian leaders who continue to accuse Israel of failing to live up to its agreement. He said the incitement "causes tremendous unrest" in the occupied territories.

Attack hits home

The beating of the Israeli soldier, broadcast throughout the night into Israeli homes, will have political ramifications, said Barry Rubin, an Israeli political scientist.

"Everyone can relate to this kind of situation and that's why it's especially potent in these circumstances," said Rubin, a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Illan University near Tel Aviv.

It also could have an effect on the implementation of the Wye agreement, he said.

"The basic concept of the deal is, you turn over territory to increase your security and peace. If turning over territory continues to be associated with terrorism or violent outbreaks, there is going to be tremendous domestic political opposition to doing it, and not just from the right," Rubin said.

'Accumulation of anger'

Dr. Ahmed Tibi, an adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, blamed the violence on Israel and its stance on release of political prisoners. He explained the attack and the clashes of recent days as the "accumulation of anger and frustration" of Palestinians who feel deceived by the Israeli government.

"Anyone can see we didn't go to Wye to negotiate about car thieves," Tibi said, referring to the common criminals among the first round of Palestinian prisoners released by Israel. "This is why there is no confidence, and growing anger."

Pub Date: 12/03/98

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